Choosing Chocolate

Pick the perfect type for baking, melting, or nibbling.

Types of Chocolate
Mmm, we all know that rich, melt-in-the-mouth quality of good chocolate. That taste sensation comes from chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa butter. Chocolate can vary in quality, of course. Lower-quality chocolate includes other fats, which raise the product’s melting point, and offer a less distinct flavor.

Here’s a quick guide to help you choose the perfect chocolate.

Baking Chocolatebest for cooking and baking.
Also called bitter or unsweetened chocolate, this type is hardened cocoa solids and cocoa butter with no added sugar. Since its taste is astringent, it’s used primarily as a baking ingredient. Unsweetened chocolate contains 50 to 58 percent cocoa butter by weight.

Chef John's Chocolate Lava Cake

Photo by Wendy T

Bittersweet Chocolatebest for baking, cooking, and eating.
Bittersweet chocolate is the darkest of all eating chocolates. It must contain at least 35 percent chocolate liquor. Bittersweet chocolate has a more pronounced chocolate taste because of its higher concentration of chocolate liquor and less sugar. Some premium bittersweet chocolate can have a cocoa butter and cocoa solid content of 70 percent or higher. It can be used in cooking and baking, as well as eaten for a treat.

Chocolate Sea Salt Crostini

Photo by Tracy

Semisweet and Sweet Chocolatebest for baking, cooking, and eating.
Semisweet and sweet chocolate are similar to bittersweet but have a higher percentage of sugar and thus a sweeter taste. Their required chocolate liquor content is lower, averaging between 15 to 35 percent. Both kinds can also be used for cooking, as well as eaten as candy. Semisweet chocolate can usually be interchanged with bittersweet chocolate.

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

Photo by dmc07

Milk Chocolatebest for eating.
Milk chocolate creates the sweet, creamy taste found in candy bars. Milk chocolate contains at least 12 percent dry milk solids and 10 percent chocolate liquor along with sugar and added cocoa butter.

Although milk chocolate is generally not used in baking or cooking–as its delicate flavor is easily overwhelmed by other ingredients–it’s still the chocolate of choice for most Americans, preferred over dark or semisweet varieties by two to one.

Chocolate Trifle

Photo by Tricia Winterle Jaeger

White Chocolatebest for baking, cooking, and eating.
This variety is not “true” chocolate, since it contains no chocolate solids. However, it contains cocoa butter, the vegetable fat that gives chocolate its snap and luscious mouthfeel. When the cocoa butter is replaced with other, less expensive fats, it’s no longer white chocolate: it’s referred to as Almond Bark or confectioners’ coating.

White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake

Photo by bobapanda

Couverturebest for baking and confections.
A glossy form of chocolate used by professional pastry chefs and chocolatiers, this chocolate contains a minimum of 32 percent cocoa butter, which allows it to flow more easily when it’s melted and tempered. You’ll find this type of higher-grade chocolate in professional pastry and cake supply shops, as well as high-end groceries and online. Both dark and milk chocolate couvertures are available.

Cake Balls

Photo by footballgrl16

Cocoa Powderbest for baking and beverages.
When most of the cocoa butter is removed from chocolate liquor, a dense cake forms. This is then ground into powder containing 10 to 22 percent cocoa butter. “Dutched” or Dutch Process cocoa is cocoa powder treated with an alkalizing agent such as baking soda to make it darker, less bitter, and more soluble in liquids.

Best Brownies

Photo by Paula

Cocoa Nibsbest for baking.
Cocoa nibs are roasted and broken up cocoa beans, which have a very delicate chocolate flavor. They add crunch to cookies and are a delicious addition to shortbreads and other butter cookies.

More chocolate recipes to swoon over:

Where Does Chocolate Come From?
Cacao trees bear bright yellow, red, or orange pods that look like elongated squashes. Split, these pods release seeds called cacao beans. The beans are fermented to develop flavor, aroma, and color, and then roasted to intensify their rich flavor.

There are different varieties of cacao trees: Criollo, which product the finest beans but are more difficult to grow and have low yields, and Forasteros, which provide the bulk of the world’s cacao beans.

Making Chocolate

  • Heat releases the nib or inner seed, which bears the essence of chocolate.
  • Grinding cacao nibs produces a liquid or paste form of chocolate called chocolate liquor. The liquor is composed of cocoa butter–a creamy vegetable fat–and cocoa powder, the two essential ingredients (along with sugar and vanilla) in making the chocolate we eat.
  • Conching, or more grinding and kneading, smooths the texture of the chocolate liquor, releasing residual moisture and acidity.

Tips for Working with Chocolate